A team of researchers from MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh have, for the first time, grown an organ in an animal by using cells created in a lab. For this, the researchers created a thymus, an organ next to the heart that produces immune cells known as T cells that are vital for guarding against the disease.
By using a method known as reprogramming, the researchers transformed fibroblasts cells from a mouse embryo into the thymus cells. Thymus cells are capable of supporting the development of T cells in the lab. When researchers mixed these reprogrammed cells with other key thymus cell types and transplanted them in a mouse, the cells formed a replacement organ. The new organ had the same structure, complexity and function as a healthy adult thymus. It is the first time that the scientists have made an entire living organ from cells that were created outside of the body through reprogramming.
Doctors have already shown that patients with thymus disorders can be treated with infusions of extra immune cells or transplantation of thymus organ soon after birth. The only challenges are limited donors and tissue matching problems with the recipient. With further refinement, researchers hope that their lab–grown cells could form the basis of a thymus transplant for people with a weak immune system.